November 29, 2011 by Paul Strege
Editor's note: This article is from FLW Bass Fishing magazine, offering tips, techniques and tackle reviews for anglers of all skill levels plus in-depth features on the pros of the sport.
Pop-Tarts pro Greg Bohannan of Rogers, Ark., has enjoyed remarkable success on the Walmart FLW Tour, having scored 13 top-10s. In July, I shared a picturesque summer day with him as he prepared for the EverStart Series Central Division tournament on Detroit River/Lake St. Clair and collected several pointers. Among other things, I also learned that Bohannan isn't just a threat on the lakes of the Ozarks.
Angler: Greg Bohannan, Rogers, Ark.
Fishery: Detroit River and Lake St. Clair, Mich.
Where to start?
Considering Lake St. Clair's reputation for producing lots of trophy-class smallmouths, the task of finding quality fish hardly seems a challenge. Wrong. Virtually all of St. Clair's 430 square miles of water is fishable, with a natural maximum depth of 21 feet. Finding "better" fish among millions of "good" ones often intimidates even the most experienced anglers.
We depart the Elizabeth Park boat ramp at 5 a.m. and make the half-hour run up the Detroit River toward Lake St. Clair. The view of the GM Renaissance Center against the backdrop of a crimson dawn is worth the early wakeup call.
Don't overlook the obvious
Shortly after entering the main lake, Bohannan shuts down his Ranger Z520 in a channel leading toward a west shore boat harbor. Seconds later, he's rhythmically dancing a MegaBass Vision 110 jerkbait off the edge of a 10- to 20-foot break.
"Although some places like this are obvious, they can still hold a 3- to 4-pounder," Bohannan says. "If I find myself struggling or needing a fish in the tournament, I might stop here. It's also on the way back to the launch."
Bohannan crisscrosses the drop-off, up onto the flat and back. We catch and release several fish, but none of the size he hoped for. He works toward the northeastern edge of the riprap harbor break wall where he lays down his jerkbait rig and grabs his drop-shot rod. The current is noticeably pulling around the corner of the break wall, and with his first toss of a 3-inch black Berkley Gulp Leech he connects with a smallmouth. Over the next 10 minutes, he catches a half-dozen fish up to 2 pounds in size, seemingly on every cast.
"Lots of fish, but no big ones here this morning," he quips. "Let's make a move."
By 8 a.m., a northwest breeze gains strength. Bohannan drives us out to a 15-foot-deep main-lake flat. He starts one of several drifts with his drop-shot Gulp Leech, occasionally alternating among a drop-shot, deep-diving crankbait and jerkbait.
"Back home, the best smallmouth fishing days are cloudy and rainy," Bohannan explains. "Up north, I find just the opposite. In my experience, cranks and jerkbaits work best on sunny, calm days. Light penetrates better under those conditions, and reaction lures are most effective. When the wind is strong or the skies are overcast, it seems like the fish need to be finessed into biting."
We drift with the drop-shot, the goal being to cover large distances of water until specific fish-holding areas are located.
Big water, small signs
After combing the flat for nearly an hour without much success, Bohannan stows his Minn Kota Fortrex, fires up his engine and heads a short distance to a similar area. With sporadic weed clumps and baitfish scattered throughout the lake, he believes that his main objective is merely finding where the fish are at that moment in time. Shortly into his second drift, Bohannan connects with a 4-pound smallmouth, but loses it boatside while attempting to lip the frolicking fish. He observes that the surface is clouded with the shucks of mayfly nymphs.
"I've noticed throughout the week that some of my better fish have come from flats with a bunch of these mayfly sheds on the surface," he says.
Bohannan picks up the pace, limiting each drift to about 20 minutes in duration. Now that a good-sized smallmouth has been revealed, he's refining his search to locate additional fish and identify any subtle structural differences in the area.
"On these drifts, I'm really looking for one of three things: [depth finder] readings of fish, thicker pods of grass or any change in the bottom," Bohannan says. "When you have a lake that is so consistent like St. Clair, even the slightest bottom change or isolated weed clump will have fish on it."
Great Lakes electronics
For big-water, big-bass exploration, Bohannan relies heavily on his electronics to expedite the search. His Pop-Tarts wrapped Ranger is equipped with three Humminbird 998 color side-imaging graphs, two at the bow and one at the helm. One graph up front is dedicated solely to GPS display and provides ample room for detailed small- and large-scale electronic base maps, while the second graph is utilized simply for 2-D, downward sonar.
"Many successful offshore anglers, guys like Mark Rose, Shin Fukae and Brent Ehrler, rig their boats this way," he says. "You have so much more detail with multiple screens than you have with splitting the screen on a single unit. This is my first boat rigged this way, and I really like it."
I quickly buy into his electronics rigging theory as we drift over a 1-foot bottom rise and connect with a 3-pounder. When peering over at his helm GPS, I notice the flat is littered with waypoints of differing symbols.
"I like to group waypoints from past trips with a common symbol," he explains about the system. "That way, I can quickly identify what locations are best from one year to the next."
Change of pace
While the majority of anglers would be satisfied with our midmorning results, Bohannan is restless and heads north to the Metro Beach Metropark to explore some shallow water.
He uses a spinnerbait and Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap to work a channel, rocky shoreline and nearby offshore weed flat. With the exception of the boat channel, most of the water he fishes is less than 5 feet deep. He catches several bass, but none are of competitive tournament quality.
If in doubt, try it again
Shortly before noon, we head back out to the main-lake flats, this time a little deeper in 17 to 18 feet of water. The wind has increased in strength, and waves have started to build. We begin another drift a few hundred yards off of a prominent breakline. Within five minutes, he connects with a 4-pound smallmouth on a drop-shot Gulp Leech. He marks the spot with a waypoint, re-rigs and continues with the directional drift.
"When you are drifting and see fish on the graph, don't just reel up and try to drop on top of them," Bohannan explains. "You will eventually drift through them like we did for the last fish, and you will get bit. I'll definitely come back here during the tournament. I marked a bunch of fish."
The pro decides this is a potential tournament spot, with the caveat that an angler has to be willing to drift it all day.
I can only agree. Bites are not coming fast and furious, but recur steadily. We go on to catch four more smallmouths, most weighing more than 3 pounds, until deciding to call it a day at 2 p.m. Though Lake St. Clair doesn't match up in characteristics to his regular Ozark haunts, Bohannan has demonstrated he knows how to find fish here.
Lake St. Clair conditions
Weather conditions preceding the outing on Lake St. Clair are relatively stable. A midweek thunderstorm breaks up the monotony of several consecutive days of typical summer weather. The wind is light to moderate, the skies are generally sunny and the surface water temperature hovers around 80 degrees. One variable that Bohannan identifies as unusual is the late spring, which might be preventing bass from congregating in substantial numbers on their favorite summertime haunts. A clue: the recent mayfly hatch, occurring two weeks later than most years.
Forage and cover
Lake St. Clair's primary form of cover is weed growth. Weedbeds range in size from small clumps to large fields, and host many varieties of baitfish, smallmouth bass and other predatory species. Perch and gobies populate the weed clumps that Bohannan targets and mayfly nymphs likely attract baitfish to the area.
Postscript: Bohannan's Lake St. Clair results
Greg Bohannan caught nearly matching limits of 14-10 and 14-7 to finish 57th. Mark Modrak of China Township, Mich., won with a three-day weight of 58-15.
- Utilize your electronics. Technological advancements in GPS mapping in addition to sonar imaging can assist in locating productive areas, especially on large and unfamiliar waters.
- Fish-holding structure, especially on lakes devoid of bottom contour, is relative. Pay close attention to subtle depth and bottom composition changes.
- Fish with courage. On days that catch rates might be down, the most successful approach might be simply to cover large areas of water.
- Look for surface water signs. Insect hatches, such as mayflies, often reveal productive sections of water.